Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Easy Fluffy Gluten Free Chocolate Cupcakes

I had never made gluten free cupcakes before so I was curious how they would turn out when a friend asked me to make some. I knew I could make a good gluten free cupcake, I just wasn't sure if they would be up to par the first go around and decided to make time for a few test batches before committing to a recipe.

In my mind, I though of gluten free cake to be either flat or dry. I mean, unless you were a total GF pro, it had to be, right? I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.

I started by scouring Pinterest for recipes, taking note of any common techniques or ingredients among recipes. When making something new, I tend to gravitate toward more complex recipes because the extra work usually pays off. Baking is a science and sometimes skipping a seemingly unimportant step can take your finished product from amazing to just ok, or even a total fail. However, I found one recipe that peaked my interest. It was an easy, one bowl recipe but seemed to include ingredients that might fix the problems associated with GF baking and the author did a satisfactory job of explaining why this recipe worked just as well as the more complex ones did. With some minor modifications, I gave it a go and the puffiest, most beautiful chocolate cupcakes emerged from the oven on my first try. Can't beat that!

Then came the real test. I gave one to Jordan, I gave one to my brother, and I gave one to my dad and they all agreed that "Hey, these are pretty good!" Test passed.

I do have to say, they are not completely, 100% identical to regular cupcakes. The texture is ever so slightly different and they are just a little more dense than a classic cupcake; however, if you didn't say anything, no one would probably notice the difference.

These cupcakes are extremely chocolatey and are also less sweet than a regular cupcake - so dark chocolate lovers rejoice! If you love super sweet cake, feel free to adjust the sugar amount, but, with icing, I had no complaints, even from sugar lovers in the room.

-1 1/2 cup GF flour blend with xanthan gum in the ingredients  - I used Olivia's Outstanding Multi-Purpose Flour Mix (or add 3/4 teaspoon xanthun gum to a flour that doesn't already contain xanthun gum)
-1 cup baking cocoa 
-1 1/2 cup sugar
-1 teaspoon baking soda
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-1 cup hot water or coffee
-2/3 cup melted butter
-1/2 cup sour cream (or you can also use dairy free yogurt)
-3 eggs

  1. Preheat your oven to 325F, and prepare your pans. *tip: I usually preheat the oven to 350F and then reduce it to 325F when I put the cupcakes in the oven. This will usually give your cupcakes a higher rise.*
  2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the cocoa, brown sugar, flour blend, baking soda, and salt.
  3. Add the hot water and oil to the dry ingredients and THEN stir using a silicone/rubber spatula (if you stir in just the water, the batter will be very thick so when you try to stir in the oil it will take a long time and splash all over.)
  4. Stir in eggs and sour cream.
  5. Fill your prepared pans (For cupcakes, about ⅔ full. For layer cakes, evenly divide the batter between both pans). Bake until the cake springs back if gently touched, or a toothpick inserted near the center of the cake comes out mostly clean, with maybe a little crumb or two.
  6. Mini cupcakes should bake 15-20 minutes, regular cupcakes 20-25 minutes, and layer cakes or 9x13 cakes 30-35 minutes.
Recipe adapted from Flippin' Delicious

Still feel intimidated by gluten free baking? Try one of Emma's Mixes! She makes gluten free baking super easy. Click HERE to find out more about Emma and her delicious cookies and more!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

My Response to the Film I'm Not Ashamed


Monday's episode of Messy Mondays was sponsored by the movie I'm Not Ashamed, which comes out this Friday. This was the first time Messy Mondays had ever been sponsored by a movie, so we were really interested to see how the response would be. I played a small part in the episode along with Masey McLane and Ben Davies (who are awesome by the way). They both starred in the film, so it was really cool to get to meet them and see how down-to-earth they are.

After the episode of Messy Mondays was posted, I scrolled through the comments and I saw a lot of great feedback and excitement about the movie, but I also saw a few fairly negative comments that had an overall feel of "It's a Christian film so it's probably bad." Which, I mean, if you generally don't like Christian movies, I can see how you could be drawn to comment that, even if it's an overtly general assumption. However, what got me the most was that some comments even went into detail about why they dislike the movie so much. I have to say that my reaction to those specific comments was something like this:

"It's not even out yet! How do you have such a detailed opinion on a movie 
that you haven't even seen? Even to the point that you make a public announcement about it?" 

I know, anyone is entitled to have an opinion on if they want to see a movie or not, but I was just honestly confused by the fact that multiple people thought it was appropriate, and even a good idea, to dish out detailed criticism while making broad assumptions about a movie they haven't even seen yet. Now, for sponsorship purposes, Jordan and I did have the opportunity to watch the movie before it released; so I thought that, because I've seen the movie, I could give you guys more of an informed opinion about what I thought about it and how I think it compares to a lot of other films within the Christian genre.

Before I dive in, I should first say that I like Christian movies. I can admit that they're often low budget and cheesy, but so are Hallmark Christmas movies and I like those too. Sometimes it's not about how awesome a movie looks or how witty it is that makes it good. Sometimes an uplifting, but slightly cheesy story is just what I want to watch. Isn't that the great thing about stories? They can be a little silly and still be great. However, with all that being said, I wouldn't put I'm Not Ashamed into the "cheesy Christian movie" category.

I'm Not Ashamed is a film about Rachel Joy Scott who was a victim of the Columbine Shooting in 1999. The script is based on the true story of Rachel's life leading up to the school shooting, taken from her personal journals. First off, I just want to say I was surprised by the movie. It really wasn't what I was expecting at all. I don't really know what I was expecting going into it, but I was definitely surprised coming out. Even though the story is surrounded by the tragedy of Columbine, it seems to be happening in the background which gives the viewer a feeling of innocence to the upcoming event. As the viewer, you are immersed in Rachel's life and almost forget that there is a tragedy forming in the background. It's easy to think that this movie is about death, but it's actually about life and struggles and relationships.

My favorite thing about the movie is that it's incredibly relatable and real. It shows that accepting Jesus doesn't make our lives suddenly easier. As Christians, we still have to live in the world with pain and confusion like everyone else and this movie makes that very apparent. You see that after Rachel accepts Jesus in her life, she then finds herself struggling to live her old life as a new person. But through it all, holding to her faith, she impacted others in ways she probably never thought possible. Overall it was just really interesting to finally watch a movie that portrays the Christian faith as not suddenly rainbows and sunshine as soon as you accept Jesus. Like I said, it really shows the struggle she had with her faith while in high school, and this struggle makes her one of the more relatable characters I've ever seen in a film within the Christian genre.

If you are skeptical or have any preconceived opinions about this movie, I would highly suggest putting them down and, at the very least, giving this movie a chance. You might just be surprised.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Clutter Or Treasures

My grandmother hasn't been doing very well over the past year or so. She had a car accident last year and never really fully recovered, so she can no longer take care of herself. In order to help pay for her care, my mom has taken on the somewhat daunting task of getting my grandmother's assets and finances in order and just generally taking care of things - including her two cats, Zoe and Bella. My grandmother, like most grandmothers, saved absolutely everything over the years making her basement somewhat of a time capsule.

I was never allowed in the basement growing up, the only view I ever got was through the dusty window in the basement door. My siblings and cousins used to think of the basement as kind of a black hole where no one ever went. Because of this we used to throw copious amounts of toilet paper down the laundry shoot just to watch it flutter down into the dark abyss. We later realized that, in reality, my grandmother would go down there every once in a while and find a mound of toilet paper where the laundry used to go. I'm actually surprised she never told us to stop doing that.

This whole process has sparked a need to clean out. Clean out not only my grandmother's things but also my great-grandparents' things as well. It's quite overwhelming and, I'm ashamed to admit, I haven't even helped with the majority of it. Mostly I've just been going through boxes that my mom brings back. There is literally so much stuff. I can't believe all of these things have just been sitting unused all those years. Some of the items in these boxes are new to me, but many of them bring back forgotten memories. It's strange how seeing something that you didn't even know you knew existed can make you remember times and people and places. In a lot of ways, it's brought back a lot of happy memories in sad ways. Thinking about how things were and how they aren't that way anymore, and won't ever be again. How times changed without me noticing. How we all grew up and what used to be normal just slipped by me without a thought. It's really giving me a sense of time.

We are now in a time where minimalism is all the rage. There have been enough of us who have had to clean out grandparents' basements and attics that we've decided that all the clutter is just too overwhelming. And maybe that's a good thing in a lot of ways. I mean, did my great grandmother really need that much glassware? Probably not. Regardless, the important thing to remember is that fads of one generation will affect the next greatly. If my grandparents had been minimalists, what kind of connection would I have with my memories of them today? What would I know about who they were and what would have been lost? What will my grandchildren and great grandchildren know about me with my millennial minimalism mentality (that's a mouthful...)?

I'm not saying that you should start hoarding everything you own or throw everything out, and I'm definitely not saying that your possessions make up who you are. It's just an interesting thought that a person's personal possessions can make you feel a connection to them later on in life - like how I feel now, wearing my great-grandmother's jade necklace or trying to use her old crank wheel hand mixer to beat batter for a cake just to see what it's like to use a real hand mixer. 

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Popcorn with Coconut Oil and Honey

I've always loved popcorn. Popcorn's great because you can make it so many different ways: classic with salt and butter, sweet like caramel and kettle corn, savory like cheese, or even birthday cake flavored like I discovered this weekend! But my most favorite way to have popcorn is homemade with coconut oil and honey. I've even convinced non-popcorn eaters (Jordan) to love popcorn this way, so it's definitely worth a try.

1/3 cup unpopped popcorn
1 tablespoon butter
1 - 1 1/2 tablespoons coconut oil
A drizzle of honey
Salt to taste

I have an old fashioned air popper that I use to pop my popcorn, but you can also use a brown paper bag in the microwave by simply pouring some popcorn into the paper bag, folding the end to secure it, and microwaving for a couple of minutes or until you stop hearing popping for 3 - 5 seconds. If you choose to use a paper bag and the microwave, only pop about half the popcorn at a time - remember it grows!

After you pop your corn, melt the butter, coconut oil, and honey together in the microwave. Make sure to stir it because the honey will settle on the bottom. Pour the oil mixture over the popcorn in small portions, salting and stirring until the popcorn is evenly coated to your taste.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Keeping In Touch

This past week I saw an old friend from college, Ashley. It was really fun to get together and reminisce about old times. The sad part was that I hadn't talked to Ashley in probably three years. Three years. We joked about how we felt like we've kind of kept in touch because we see each other on Instagram all the time. But that totally doesn't count!

I am terrible at keeping in touch. I mean, really. I wouldn't be surprised if I've made a lot of people feel like I don't really like them simply because I do not do a good job of keeping in touch. This is one of those times when the thought doesn't count. I actually think of keeping in contact with my friends and acquaintances often, usually while I'm driving to work. I'm driving to work and I think of so-and-so and I'm like, "I miss so-and-so! I wonder how they're doing?" But I never actually get around to acting on that thought. Which kind of makes me a terrible person in a lot of ways because so-and-so, of course, has no idea I thought of them or that I even care.

One reason why I fail at relationships in my life is that I am in a very busy, transition faze in my life that I keep thinking is going to end soon but just won't. I'm starting to wonder if this is just it. Will all this instability and uncertainty in my life ever resolve? Yes. Yes, it will. But at the rate I'm going, I won't have any friends by the time it does.

One day, while driving to work, I finally realized my fate of a friendless future and it was very sad. I realized that as much as relationships and people are important to me, I was failing at my own advice. I realized that I really need to put more importance on the relationships in my life. I'm still trying to figure out a balance of being able to keep my life and my friendships together, but I'm trying to be more intentional with my relationships.

Life is busy and confusing and disappointing and exciting but it's a whole lot more fun with people to share it with. So keep in touch!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Finally Fall?


It's officially fall, but I wouldn't have known it unless someone told me because it's basically still summer outside. I always remember September being a fairly warm month but it's definitely been warmer than usual lately.

1. Favorite Thing:  I love how fall smells. And I don't just mean the cinnamon brooms when you walk into the grocery store. Fall just seems to have a certain smell, and I like it.

2. Planning: A day away. I was gone A LOT this summer but mostly not for vacation. I would really love a quiet day away, even if it is just a day.

3. Eating: Popcorn! I often go through phases where I want to eat popcorn every day. Popcorn is good any time of year, but it's always felt especially like a fall food to me. I like to make my popcorn with coconut oil and honey.

4. Drinking: I know it's super cliche, but I'm actually excited for pumpkin spice lattes this year. I'm usually so annoyed by the hype that I'm tired of pumpkin spice everything by the end of September, but this year, I'm ready to join the masses in their love for Pumpkin Spice!

5. Wearing: As of right now, I'm still wearing summer clothes because it's still 90 degrees outside, but I'm looking forward to wearing flannel.

6: Listening to: My Silver Lining and Safe and Sound

7. Enjoying: These last days of summer weather because, as much as I love fall, summer seemed to fly by way too fast.

8. Current Project: I've been wanting to drastically decrease the size of my wardrobe for a while now, but it has proven more difficult to do that I thought it would be. But now, I've decided that it's finally time to be out with the old! For real this time.

9. Hoping for: A future home with a fireplace because that just sounds like the coziest thing ever.

10. Doing: Homework. I'm taking an online class and it's a "do at your own pace" kind of thing, so I procrastinated and now it's a "race against the clock" kind of thing because access expires in November.  Oops.

What are your favorite things about fall?

Monday, September 19, 2016

2 Ingedient Mug Cake

Saturday was a rainy day. Rainy days have a way of making me want to sleep all day, or at least have a cozy warm mug of something all day. Coffee? Tea? How about cake? You could even just have a mug of each. That sounds like a pretty cozy rainy day to me. Especially when this mug of cake is super fast and easy to make and will only make enough for a small treat without completely ruining your diet.
Here's how it's done:

3 tablespoons boxed cake mix (I like to use chocolate)
2 - 2 1/2 tablespoons milk of your choice
toppings or add-ins of your choice
A sturdy microwave safe mug (I do not recommend using a clear glass mug)

All you do is mix the cake mix and milk together in a microwave safe mug. It should be the consistency of normal cake batter. You can add anything you like - chocolate chips, nuts, sprinkles, etc. Microwave for about 1 minute and 45 seconds. The mug will be very hot so let it sit in the microwave for about 30 seconds before taking it out. Top it with ice cream, whipped cream, icing, chocolate syrup, anything you want!
This is not one of those recipes where the cake rises to the top of the mug and stays super fluffy. It will puff up while cooking but most likely fall back down a little so don't worry if it seems to go flat. It will still be fluffy, moist, and delicious!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

5 Things to Consider When Going to College

It's September and if you graduated high school this past spring, there's a good chance that you started your first week of college. College can be a little scary. You're entering completely unknown territory with unknown people. But once you're there, it's really not scary at all. It's just a series of classes with people who either have to be there or want to be there, just like you. But there's a lot to know, and once you graduate, you'll probably think of a few things you could have done differently. So here are my 5 things to consider when going to college:

1. Consider investing in a good backpack
Don't take the word invest lightly. I mean get a really good backpack that you're going to love carrying around as a constant accessory for at least the next four years. But don't just focus on aesthetics. It has to work. Padded straps and back, organized pockets, and excellent craftsmanship are a must. One time my backpack, which had my computer in it, literately ripped off my back while I was walking down the side walk. Don't let this happen to you.

I never wanted to spend the money on a good backpack so I ended up with a series of book bags and hand-me-down backpacks that I hated, hurt my back, and broke. Looking back, I wish I had just spent the money to get something great, that I both liked carrying around all day and that worked. My friend Emma bought one like this when she started grad school. Even she will admit that it was a little bit of a splurge, but it's a great backpack and she likes it and it will most certainly get her through school without unfortunate book bag struggles like mine. Be like Emma. Invest in a backpack.

2. Consider being in control of your class schedule
Most new students don't know that they can have a say in their class schedules and don't think they need to, because that's your adviser's job, right? Please don't make this mistake. There are some classes that you have to take at certain times and you don't have a choice, but a lot of times, you have more options than you might think. Get a school catalog or look it up online. A lot of times there will be suggested class tracks according to your major as well. These are good guidelines, but they are not the only way to get your degree. Do your homework and make a list of all required classes, including prerequisites. Then make a list of all optional classes that will fulfill required credits, making special notice of when they are offered because not all classes are offered every semester. With this information, you can make your own plan and talk about it with your adviser to find the right balance for you. Your adviser might be great but they have a lot of other students on their plate and they don't have the time to always get everything perfect for each one of their students.

You also might find that making your own plan gives you the opportunity to take classes that interest you and fit you better than a generic class that most people in your major take but don't really have to because there are other options that fulfill the requirement.

Another reason to make your own plan is to know what you're getting yourself into. I tested high enough in math on the ACT to qualify for college Calculus. I may have somehow tested high enough to look like I could take that class, but there is no way I would have passed it. And I didn't need it! I took College Algebra online one summer, made an A-, and never looked back. That minus means I struggled enough.

3. Consider not getting your gen eds out of the way as soon as possible
General education as been described in many ways - waste of time, unnecessary, easy, busy work…and on and on. Love them or hate them, in a four year college you can't graduate without them. Since you have to suffer through them, you might as well try to enjoy it, because, let's face it, they're probably the easiest classes you're going to have to take. So you have 2 options:

Get them over with and live the breezy life until you hit Junior year where you're slapped full on with core classes and don't know what hit you. Say goodbye social life!
You can spread them out with that super cool plan you made yourself. And not loose your mind because most of your semesters are balanced with 1, 2, maybe 3 hard classes and a couple of easy ones too. Sure, you might end up in a "freshman" class as a senior, but it'll practically feel like kindergarten with your 3 years of college class experience, you'll be able to spit out those three page papers in no time.

I did this partially by accident but it worked out amazingly! During my senior year most of my friends were stressed out of their minds and overloaded with homework and projects, but I had a pretty good year and was able to have a lot of fun doing an internship and working on my senior project. Yes, I said fun. Now don't get me wrong, I had plenty of times of stress and mounds of homework but it was manageable. So instead of just getting those gen eds out of the way, consider using them to your advantage.

4. Consider the word on the street
College is something like a bubble that has a culture specific to your school. This culture will feel like complete reality for the time that you are there. Something like living in a gossipy small town. You're going to hear stuff about the school politics and drama and about your fellow students but not as much as you'll hear about your professors. Particularly, which ones are good, which ones are bad, which ones will let you off with an easy A, and which ones are impossible.

Consider this information, but more importantly, consider where it's coming from. My first semester of college, I needed to take Financial Stewardship which was a basic gen ed at my school. The class that fit best with my schedule was taught by a certain professor that even my adviser at the time warned me not to take. I was like, "Psh…I can handle it" and took the class anyway. The truth is, I made it out of that class with an A but had to put in probably three times more work than I should have for that grade. The problem wasn't simply that it was a hard class, it was that this particular professor had a way of making simple content extremely complicated and gave tests with minimal questions over huge sections of the text book, making it very difficult to adequately prepare.

Another instance was where I took another required class. This time I didn't have a choice, I ended up in the dreaded Dr. Spross class. I did hear much more convincing stories of his impossibleness from students of his core classes, but this was a gen ed and ended up being a great class. In fact, he was one of my favorite professors. It ended up that if you just simply did the work, you made good grades. He had a genuine desire to see his students succeed and was a great teacher. He didn't hand out passing grades without work, but he made it very possible to do well. So consider the word on the street, but more importantly, consider who it comes from.

5. Consider appreciating that you get to go to college
In my years at college, I encountered a lot of students who saw being there as a burden, just something they had to suffer through because it's what you do. You go to college. And as long as they made at least straight Cs, they were doing fine. But some people don't go to college. I'm not talking about the ones who don't go to college because they had another option like trade schools or a good job in place or the like, I mean people who don't get to go to college or who have to work to actually pay for it themselves because they want to be there. As much as you might hear the opposite, it's not your right to go to college. If you don't work to be there, you don't deserve to be there. So whether you pay for school yourself or you don't, be glad to be there and learn all you can because you may never have the same opportunities again. 

Thursday, September 1, 2016

A Cupcake Fiasco

In my years of self-learned baking, I've made a lot of mistakes, and fortunately, I've learned from them and my mistake level has decreased by A LOT. However, some disasters are out of your control. This was one of those times.

It all started when I got a cupcake order for five dozen cupcakes. Easy enough, right? Well it would have been except my oven broke and ruined two dozen cupcakes....

One other thing that was making this particular day a little harder was rag weed. Yes, ragweed. Apparently it's in bloom and I am very allergic to it. It gives me a very sore throat, no voice, and no energy. So a broken oven and two dozen ruined cupcakes was not what I had in mind for the day.

Either way, it was off to my sister's house to use her oven! Thank goodness for family who lives near by. So I loaded up my car with cake batter and hoped to goodness it didn't ruin in the incredibly hot car on the way over.

When I got there, I got straight to work and got, not five, but six dozen cupcakes done because my allergy brain was too foggy to do simple math and I somehow ended up with a dozen too many. But they looked perfect. I was so happy thinking that this disaster was going to turn out just fine, but of course, it wasn't over yet. As I was packing them up to go home and start the fun part of decorating them, I noticed that one of them looked a little dark on the bottom. It was hard to tell through the wrapper so, since I had extra, I unwrapped one to find that the bottom was just a little too dark. You know when sometimes ovens are tricky and tend to run a little hot on the bottom? I unwrapped another - too dark. I couldn't believe it! I had literally burned six dozen cupcakes. I mean, they weren't black. If I had been making them for myself, I wouldn't have been too concerned, but these were for an order. They had to be perfect!

Back to the store for the third time that day and then back to my sister's house to completely start over. I put the rack on the very top rack and started again. This time I anxiously awaiting to see how the first batch turned out. 16 minutes later, a perfectly fluffy, beautiful batch of cupcakes emerged. Problem solved. Four dozen more and I ended up with cupcakes I could be proud of.

In the end, I ended up with eight dozen ruined cupcakes and five dozen perfect ones but I only needed five so everything was fine! It just took a very long, frustrating, exhausting process to get there. So, if you're a baker and you think you're the only one who goes through days like this, know that you are not alone. If you're a baker who has never had a day like this, bless you and please share your great wisdom with the rest of us. And if you are not a baker, I hope you can have a laugh at my unfortunate baking stories and grow a greater appreciation for the work that went into that cupcake at your next birthday party.